Hi everyone! Thanks for reading 🙂 This little post will be about my experiences going to scientific conferences and what I enjoyed/ disliked most about them.
My first experience was a poster presentation at a conference at the University of Cambridge. As it was only my first year doing my PhD studies and I hadn’t studied for a master’s degree beforehand I found the prospect of going to discuss my work with experts pretty daunting. People had told me not to worry as everyone would be super understanding of the fact I had only just started and so couldn’t possibly know the answers to all their questions.. And in fact that they would probably be really impressed to see me there at all so early! This didn’t stop me from having a massive worry leading up to it though!
The reason I wanted to get a head start in the conference world was basically to get over my fear of talking about myself and my work early on in my career. I knew this would be a huge aspect of my studies in the next few years and I didn’t want to be ‘behind’ any of my colleagues who had been presenting posters during their year as a master’s student. In hindsight I shouldn’t have felt so much pressure to ‘catch up’ with the other PhD students, I had got to where I was by a slightly different route to normal but I had still made it to the same point as them… I had skills from working in a multidisciplinary lab that they hadn’t gained from an extra year at university (and vice versa).
However, whilst I shouldn’t have felt this pressure, I am almost glad that I did. The conference, whilst terrifying at first, turned out to be highly useful in terms of getting a wider range of feedback about the direction my project was taking. Before this, I had only heard the opinion of my supervisor, who whilst amazingly intelligent, was super busy and could not be expected to think of EVERYTHING at once!
My tips for getting the most out of scientific conferences are:
*Don’t be scared to ask people if you don’t understand – if you don’t understand, somebody else probably doesn’t either and is also too scared to ask!
*Also, the people you think are really confident and super clever have been where you are now and know what it’s like to be at the early stages of your career. If you are super nervous about interacting with people high up in their field… Find another student to stick to! They are also probably just as nervous as you… or if not they have done it before and will know what to do!
*Once you have presented your poster and gone home/ back to your room, write down what people have said to you! It will probably be difficult to remember a few weeks later when your supervisor asks what people thought.
*If you are presenting a poster, make sure to make time to walk around and see other peoples posters… it might surprise you how helpful it can be to your own work to help another person with theirs!
*Also if you are presenting a poster, make sure you have a small speech (a couple of minutes) prepared that you can repeat if anyone asks you to explain your poster… don’t be caught unprepared!
*Use the time to make connections in other universities, you will find that the more you go to conferences, the more familiar faces will become. When you are looking for a job in future already knowing of who is doing what work and who you think could perhaps be good to work with will be of real benefit.
*Enjoy yourself whilst you are there. It may seem to drag a bit whilst you are there, but looking back you will wish you hadn’t worried quite so much! Remember to take the obligatory poster selfie!
*And lastly… try not to be caught at bad times by the official photographer for the website!
I hope you found this helpful.. let me know what your experiences with conferences have been!